Richmond County schools reacted with excitement Thursday after Apple Inc. unveiled the iBooks 2 service, which makes digital versions of textbooks easily accessible on iPads.
Kim Stripling, the school system’s director of media and technology, said Apple’s development would bring education to another level if integrated in Augusta.
“It would bring everything to life,” Stripling said. “If a teacher was teaching Edgar Allen Poe’s (The Cask of Amontillado), instead of telling kids about catacombs, a video would be right there with pictures of catacombs so they can see what they look like and have more of an idea of the setting of the story.”
The software incorporates videos, interactive diagrams and audio to the texts, which Stripling said would enhance learning and do away with 40-pound backpacks full of books.
Currently, the school system does not provide iPads to students, but about 700 teachers and administrators have the devices. Administrators use an iPad app called eWalk for teacher observations, and special education teachers use the iPads for work with autistic students.
T.W. Josey High School purchased iPads for all of its teachers using a federal School Improvement Grant, and Principal Ronald Wiggins said the teachers are being trained to use the devices for lessons.
“Eventually, you’ll get so the technology will be interwoven into everything you do in the classroom,” Wiggins said. “You name it. Everything.”
The chance of iBooks replacing textbooks in Richmond County in the near future isn’t likely, but it is an idea Stripling said she’d like to explore.
Stripling said the district would have to make sure the iBooks are in line with state standards, figure out how to handle insurance and find money.
“Money is always the issue,” she said.
To bring iBooks to classrooms, Apple has been working on digital textbooks with publishers Pearson PLC, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a trio responsible for 90 percent of textbooks sold in the U.S.
The development pits the maker of the iPod and iPhone against Amazon.com Inc. and other content and device makers that have made inroads into the estimated $8 billion market with their electronic textbook offerings.
It could also see Apple shake up the traditional textbook market significantly, changing the emphasis from content to hardware; but publishers said working would be a great opportunity to revive and expand the market.
“I give such incredible marks to Steve Jobs and Apple for having this vision and pushing it through the iPad,” said Terry McGraw, the CEO of McGraw-Hill. He said he had been talking to Apple’s founder Jobs and his team since June about re-creating textbooks as applications. Jobs died in October.
He said having textbooks on iPads will open up the market beyond high school and university students to everyday consumers.
“I think without a doubt this will open up a learning agency for anybody and anywhere,” he said
The early plan is to let students to buy books directly through Apple rather than through their school districts. The books in the pilot launch are priced at $14.99 each on the iPad, with a range of interactive features.
Apple also unveiled iBooks Author, a new free application available on the Mac App Store which enables anyone to create a book.
It also re-introduced its iTunes U service as a standalone app, with up to 100 complete university online courses from colleges including Yale and Duke.
At an event at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller and Apple Internet chief Eddy Cue introduced tools to craft digital textbooks and demonstrated how authors and even teachers can create books for students.
The “value of the app is directly proportional to students having iPads,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner.
Apple’s Schiller said it is time to reinvent the textbook, adding that 1.5 million iPads are in use now in education.
“It’s hard not to see that the textbook is not always the ideal learning tool,” he said. “It’s a bit cumbersome.”
At the event, the first since the passing of Jobs, Schiller said teachers need help and Apple is trying to figure out how it can do its part.
“In general, education is in the dark ages,” he said, adding that education has challenges that are “pretty profound.”
Staff Writer Tracey McManus and Reuters contributed to this article.